By: Rhonda Bassett-Spiers, CEO, iTradeNetwork
Making a sale shouldn’t be the end of the customer journey, it should be the beginning.
Transactional business practices just don’t cut it anymore for any industry, and never has that been more apparent than during COVID-19. The pandemic highlighted the need to flip the script for clients and customers. The focus had to change from sales to support in order to keep businesses afloat.
The food and beverage industry was severely disrupted during the pandemic, for some, it halted everything. But together we made it through. Not because you bought the right product, or were sold the right solution, but because we listened to each other’s needs, stepped in, and stepped up to help everyone not only get through this unprecedented experience but rise above it to emerge better than before.
How did this happen? It happened because of a renewed commitment to corporate social responsibility… a new commitment to build a culture of care for customers.
Building a Culture of Care for Customers
During COVID, we heard a lot about companies recognizing the serious toll the pandemic took on the mental and emotional wellbeing of employees. Many took action through the creation of new protocols and resources to provide the support needed. Employees were seen as more than just a worker; they were people, some like family, going through trauma. That had to be addressed and many companies answered this important call.
But what about recognizing and supporting the toll on our customers? Our customers and clients do not simply exist to pay us. They offer us the opportunity to forge more profound relationships beyond the transactional. Especially during a crisis like COVID-19. And especially buyers and suppliers in the food and beverage industry.
COVID’s Impact on Our Industry
As restaurants and bars were forced to shut their doors, and then limit capacity, suppliers were left with products that had nowhere to go. Grocery stores were running out of supplies as shoppers started panic-buying. The crisis created chaos in the supply chain, but organizations were able to step up and help those in need by innovating new ways to put their products and solutions to use.
During COVID, restaurants were forced to pivot fast. Despite their own challenges to stay open, many owners stepped up and turned their restaurant into community kitchens, helping to feed everyone from first-responders to families facing economic hardships. And even those who knew their business would not survive made sure to share what they did have despite that fact.
As of March 2021, just over 10% of restaurants in the U.S. have closed permanently since the pandemic hit.
As restaurants were forced to close down, grocery stores became essential businesses for families. In 2020, owners added extra store hours, special store hours for seniors, and adapted to technology that allowed for online ordering, deliveries, and touch-less in-store payment opportunities. Retailers also became the sites for drive-thru COVID testing and, in 2021, vaccinations ensuring the safety of their employees and customers alike.
As a leader of supply chain management for more than 20 years, we recognized our technology could be a powerful ally in times of crisis and put our platform to use in a new way that helped companies in the food and beverage supply chain navigate uncertainty.
Just days after the pandemic shut down the world, we recognized our marketplace of more than 8,000 trading partner clients could be a solution outside of our customer base. Retailers were desperate to find new suppliers to fulfill the gaps, and suppliers were desperate to find new buyers for their goods. So we allowed anyone in the industry to register to gain free access to our marketplace.
Last summer, iTrade partnered with Uber Freight to transform iTradeMarketplace into a donation platform, allowing users to easily donate produce to Feeding America food banks with zero shipping charges.
We are dedicated to continuing to work on the behalf of our clients, helping them navigate any sudden roadblocks or issues they encounter. Just recently, we sponsored suppliers who were forced to pay, from our perspective, an unreasonable fee by a third party, quickly providing credits to offset any business impact.
What do you have to offer?
In these new times, we need to realize it’s not just about making the sale anymore — it’s about making connections. To achieve that, you have to build a culture of care in which the wellbeing of your customers, and potential customers, is the priority.
How can you create this culture of care? First, you have to make time and space to listen to and understand the challenges they face. Second, take those challenges and look at the products and solutions you offer. Ask yourself: Is there a better way to use these products? Could they help others we didn’t originally plan for? Can they benefit more customers if you provide it for a lower price, or provide free access, like iTradeMarketplace?
The point is, you can’t only focus on the bottom line. I know that sounds crazy for a business to do, but you have to look at the whole picture. Take care of your customers and your industry, and the financial reward will follow. But you have to truly put your customers first.
Still not convinced a culture of care is good for your business? Then, think about this: What is it that drives you to continue to go to the same doctor, the same grocery store, and the same restaurant? Is it the transaction or how they make you feel?